4 Short Advent Reflections

Our church invites people to submit reflections/activities/encouraging words to be shared via email during Advent. Each of us wrote one, and I think you can hear our voices very clearly in them.
 
From me:
 
Mary Elizabeth Coleridge was a British novelist and essayist who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th century, but she is best remembered now for her poetry. Her work often has a mystical element to it, like in this simple, short poem about Christmas with a shocking last line that reminds me of the Magnificat’s promise:
 
“I Saw a Stable”
 
I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger.
The oxen knew Him, had Him in their care,
To men He was a stranger.
The safety of the world was lying there,
And the world’s danger.

Much of Coleridge’s poetry has been set to music, including this poem. You can listen to it here:

From the youngest:
I like a sketch comedy show called Studio C. It’s a good fit for kids but my whole family likes it. They made a Christmas Compilation. It’s an hour long, but you can watch just one skit when you need a little laugh.

From the middle child:

Ever since I was little, my favorite holiday has been Christmas. I’m simply enamored by the sparkling lights and the excitement in the atmosphere. But I struggle with the arrival of the holiday. For me, the buildup is almost better than the actual day! Because when the day comes, I’m struck by the fact that I must wait another year for the excitement and cheer of waiting. The gifts are not my favorite part. It’s the sense of togetherness I gain from being excited for something with other people! I guess that makes Advent my favorite time of year, even more than Christmas!

And from the oldest:

A favorite part of this holiday, for me, is its fascinating cultural history. From its early beginnings as a way to absorb and de-paganize solstice festivals to Charles Dickens nearly single-handedly bringing it back into vogue, Christmas has had its ups and downs.

To me, the most humorous part of Christmas’s long history is Oliver Cromwell’s–Lord Protector, commander of the New Model Army, and all around most puritan of Puritans–War on Christmas. Now, it technically is a little facetious to say that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas. What actually happened was that the extremely Protestant Roundhead faction (and I mean Protestant in the “Witchfinder General”/“Popish plot” kind of way) beat the monarchists in the English Civil War. Suddenly, real, classic Puritanism in its most fun-hating form takes control of the country, and Cromwell, their leader, appoints himself dictator and begins a war with Ireland that basically amounts to an attempted genocide, executes the king, and crushes a Scottish rebellion, but more important for our story, he implements a series of extremely harsh restrictions on celebrations and veneration of saints. Basically, he sees the myriad celebrations and feasting held in honor of saints, the largest among them being Christmas, and he, because most of England was seeing Catholics in the shadows and Frenchmen in the walls, declared the holiday to be “pagan” and “popish.” He banned reverie and celebration, passing an ordinance that people should treat December generally and Christmas in particular “with the more solemn humiliation because it may call to remembrance our sins, and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights.” (You do celebrate Christmas this way, right?) This deeply angered the public, triggering a weeks-long period of pro-Christmas rioting/general merriment that Cromwell was unable to control. Eventually, Cromwell would go on to die, have his body be dug up, hanged at Tyburn, and then beheaded, his decapitated head eventually stuck on a stake in front of Westminster Hall, a harsh punishment even for this true enemy of Christmas.

All in all, an anecdote in the history that reminds us that this wondrous season hasn’t always been Coke polar bears and mall Santas. It combines a few of my favorite historical topics: weird Puritans, anti-governmental rioting, and of course, Christmas!

Oliver Cromwell's Head • History in Numbers

How to prevent falls with a Parmesan cheese container

This year, we’ve been saving our cylindrical, lidded containers, like the kind nutritional yeast, seasoning salt, or grated Parmesan cheese comes in to build ice-melt shakers.

Falls on ice and snow are a major cause of injury in the winter—which means hospital visits, hospital bills, and, often, physical therapy. You already walk like a penguin, but you can decrease the chance of a fall by keeping a shaker full of pet-friendly ice melt or salt/sand or salt/kitty litter (non-clay based so it doesn’t melt into a goopy mess) mix in a cup holder in your car.

When you swing your door open, take a moment to look to see if you’re about to step into a slick patch. (I drive a minivan and so keep one in a cup holder by each door so the kids can step out safely too.) If you have a long haul across a parking lot or if you expect ice to arrive while you’re inside, take it with you to make your trip back to your care safer.

Once you’ve made an ice melt shaker for yourself, use the next canister you empty to build one for your neighborhood sharing box or free little pantry. This is an easy way to take care of your neighbors.

100 gifts that are (almost) always a hit with kids

I’m not a recreational shopper typically, but I enjoy choosing gifts from my loved ones that they will enjoy. It’s a chance to think about them more deeply and a reminder to pay attention to what brings them pleasure. For kids, especially if you live far from them, this can be hard. Here is my go-to list for fun presents to send to kids. Of course, it’s best if you select what the children in your life have shown you that they love, and you should know that the adults who spend time with them will appreciate it too; no one wants to give a gift that will feel like a burden. Here are our ideas, and we’d love to hear yours!

  1. construction paper
  2. scissors with funky edges 
  3. glue sticks of different colors
  4. scented crayons or markers
  5. high-end colored pencils
  6. art pencils and a high quality eraser
  7. gel pens or Sharpies
  8. an art easel
  9. sketch books of various sizes
  10. a satchel for carrying art supplies
  11. cannisters for art supplies
  12. an electric pencil sharpener
  13. a high quality journal
  14. a journal with a lock and key
  15. a coin counting piggy bank
  16. a ceramic bank of a favorite animal
  17. a small safe
  18. a lockbox with a key
  19. a fireproof envelope for special documents
  20. a photo album with pictures of them
  21. a time capsule for them to make
  22. a time capsule with things about them inside
  23. fuzzy socks
  24. funny socks
  25. new mittens with clips to hang them on their coat
  26. gloves that can work with a touch screen
  27. long johns or footie pajamas
  28. a body pillow or a boyfriend pillow
  29. a bean bag chair 
  30. a book lamp
  31. a handcrank flashlight
  32. a handcrank radio
  33. a water bottle, mug, thermos, or travel mug
  34. fruit leather
  35. dehydrated strawberries or raspberries
  36. kumquats
  37. cheddar cheese or caramel popcorn
  38. snack food from another country
  39. movie theater sized boxes of candy
  40. walkie talkies
  41. a tent
  42. a hammock
  43. a canteen
  44. a sleeping bag
  45. a humidifier that uses essential oils, plus some oils
  46. nail polish
  47. Working Hands hand cream
  48. mud masks
  49. lip gloss
  50. lip balm
  51. shaving supplies
  52. a roll of quarters to use in vending machines
  53. a monogrammed apron 
  54. a kid-sized suitcase
  55. a wallet
  56. a purse
  57. a magazine subscription
  58. fancy stationary
  59. post card stamps
  60. hard-to-find candies or sodas
  61. vegan beef jerky
  62. an age-appropriate cookbook
  63. an address book filled out with addresses you know they will want
  64. a perpetual calendar where they can write birthdays of friends
  65. a pop socket
  66. a magnetic phone mount (for those old enough to drive)
  67. a power bank
  68. a very fancy bookmark
  69. Stretch Armstrong and his dog Fetch Armstrong
  70. the book that won this year’s Caldecott, Newberry, Coretta Scott King, Batchelder (for foreign language book translated into English), Geisel Medal, Belpre Medal, Odyssey, Hornbook, Ezra Jack Keats, Charlotte Zolotow, or Hornbook awards
  71. a pop-up tunnel for use inside
  72. a swing
  73. a “flexible flyer” style sled
  74. a red runner sled
  75. a toboggan 
  76. a snow tube sled
  77. a record player with records
  78. the board game that won this year’s Game of the Year
  79. retro games for their current game system
  80. Rubik’s cube
  81. Dutch Blitz
  82. Parcheesi or another classic game they don’t have
  83. Uno or, if they already have it, Skip Bo or Duo
  84. a small electric blanket
  85. a water bottle or rice bag that you heat and put in your bed
  86. new sheets with their favorite characters on them
  87. a houseplant
  88. a birdhouse, bird feeder with food or a suet feeder, or bird bath
  89. a bat house
  90. a new soccer or basketball with air pump, if they don’t already have one
  91. a yoga ball or a yoga mat
  92. a fun night light
  93. an alarm clock
  94. a new percussion instrument, like jingle bells or claves or a woodblock or hand drums
  95. unusual teas and a tea strainer
  96. spice mixes for popcorn
  97. a pocketknife, Swiss army knife, or leatherman
  98. a microscope
  99. a telescope
  100. binoculars
Above, our tree on the night before Christmas, 2020.

Children’s Time: Add some salt!

In this children’s time, we explore what Jesus might have meant said, ” “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.'” Expect to learn some new facts about salt–and a method for working through metaphors and similes that children can start to practice on their own.

Children’s Time: “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowy Day was the first children’s picture book to respectfully depict Black children. Teachers who read it to their students soon reported that it helped African American children see themselves for the first time in books. One teacher wrote to him, according to Deborah Pope, the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation:

There was a teacher [who] wrote in to Ezra, saying, ‘The kids in my class, for the first time, are using brown crayons to draw themselves.’ These are African-American children. Before this, they drew themselves with pink crayons. But now, they can see themselves.

You can hear this story read aloud as part of our church’s commitment to sharing picture books featuring Black characters during the month of February.

You can hear the whole service here.